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ANAHEIM ANGELS (1998: 783 runs allowed, 6th in AL)

Rotation
Chuck Finley, L
Tim Belcher, R
Steve Sparks, R
Ken Hill, R
Omar Olivares, R

Bullpen
Troy Percival, R
Rich DeLucia, R
Shigetoshi Hasegawa, R
Mark Petkovsek, R
Mike Magnante, L
Mike Holtz, L

Alternatives
Scott Schoeneweis, L
Jarrod Washburn, L

The Angels have a solid group of veteran starters, decent long or middle
relief, and a top-shelf closer. Superficially, that may appear adequate in
the pitching-poor AL West. However, the bullpen is relatively shallow, so
manager Terry Collins may ride his aging starters even harder this year, an
unsavory recipe for disaster that he has served many times before. Don’t
look for an antacid in the Angels minor league medicine cabinet–it’s
virtually empty.

While 36-year-old Chuck Finley has annually survived the Collins’ gauntlet,
he will be late getting to the starting line this year. Finley’s back
spasms will prevent him from taking the mound on Opening Day, an ominous
sign for the long season. Tim Belcher will consume plenty of innings, but
with the recent announcement that Edison Field’s center and left-center
field fences are being shortened, they won’t be as tasty as he had hoped.
The fate of the Angels’ season may lie in Ken Hill’s right elbow, from
which bone chips were removed last year. Hill has looked sharp this spring
and a return to his 1996 form is not out entirely of the question.
Knuckleballer Steve Sparks will be a solid fourth starter as long as he
avoids motivational tapes and thick phone books. If Collins doesn’t try to
expand his role, Omar Olivares should be an adequate fifth starter. Either
Scott Schoeneweis or Jarrod Washburn would have been a better choice, but
both project to start the season in Edmonton.

The real trouble spot for the Halos staff is with their injury-wracked
bullpen. Their DL has the makings of a nice little unit, as Jason Dickson
recently joined Pep Harris and Mike James. All three figure to miss all or
most of the ’99 season. Mark Petkovsek and Mike Magnante were below
league-average toiling in pitcher’s parks in the Senior Circuit last year.
Both figure to get lit up in aptly-named Edison International Field. As a
result, Rich DeLucia and Shigetoshi Hasegawa will likely shoulder more of
the load than they should carry. Finally, there is Troy Percival, who is
adding a change-up to his previous smoke-only collection. The results have
been devastating this spring, and Percival’s season could replicate Trevor
Hoffman
‘s of last year.

Defensively, the Angels will be strong in the outfield with the return of
Darin Erstad from first and Tim Salmon from injuries. Troy Glaus replaces
Dave Hollins at third base, and looks to have future gold in his glove. The
Angels middle infield could be suspect, as Gary Disarcina has lost a step
at shortstop and 2B Randy Velarde has average range and a balky arm. 1B Mo
Vaughn
has limited range but soft hands, and is fairly nimble around the
bag. Opposing teams will test catcher Todd Greene‘s surgically repaired
shoulder on the days that he is able to catch. While Glaus and Jim Edmonds
make the highlight reel plays, count on the rest of the team to not beat
itself defensively.

Projected runs allowed rank in AL West: second


OAKLAND ATHLETICS (1998: 866 runs allowed, 11th in AL)

Rotation
Kenny Rogers, L
Tom Candiotti, R
Jimmy Haynes, R
Gil Heredia, R
Brad Rigby, R

Bullpen
Billy Taylor, R
T.J. Mathews, R
Doug Jones, R
Buddy Groom, L
Mark Holzemer, L

Alternatives
Jay Witasick, R
Mark Mulder, L
Eric DuBose, L
Luis Vizcaino, R
Chad Harville, R
Tim Worrell, R

The Athletics’ pitching staff finished eleventh in the American League in
runs allowed in 1998, despite working half of their games in
still-pitcher-friendly Al Davis Playfield. With off-season moves that
amount to nothing more than rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic,
there is little hope for immediate improvement entering the season. The
rescue ship may actually be on the horizon in the form of Mark Mulder, Luis
Vizcaino
, and Eric DuBose, but by the time it arrives the 1999 A’s will
have sunk.

Kenny Rogers celebrated his escape from New York by returning to his
front-line starter form. If his current elbow problems disappear, Rogers
could have an encore performance in Oakland, perhaps for as long as four
months. Rogers is a free agent after the season, and the A’s hope to swap
his left arm for more young pitching prospects. Tom Candiotti remains the
innings-munching knuckleballer that he has been for more than a decade,
with just a tinge more gray in his game-day stubble. Candiotti is a fine
hurler for the back end of a rotation, but he is not what teams crave in a
number two starter. Jimmy Haynes and Gil Heredia have done nothing this
spring to erase the skepticism that arises whenever they are penciled into
the rotation. It appears that Brad Rigby has recaptured his 1997 fifth
starter spot with a good Cactus League performance. The A’s will be
ecstatic if he also recaptures that season’s 4.37 ERA.

While the Oakland bullpen isn’t as weak as the starting staff, it isn’t a
good fit for the team. T.J. Mathews is only effective against right-handed
batters. Ditto for Buddy Groom and Mark Holzemer against left-handed
hitters. Unfortunately, that leaves about 300 relief innings for Doug
Jones, Billy Taylor and whoever emerges from camp with the long relief
slot–either Tim Worrell or Kevin Jarvis, but preferably a clone of
kinesiologist/pitcher Mike Marshall, circa 1974. While Jones and Taylor can
still dip their petrified limbs into their bag of tricks and get a few
batters out, the A’s need more quality innings out of their bullpen. The
only alternative available to Art Howe is the occasional human sacrifice,
best exemplified by Mike Oquist‘s fourteen-run bloodbath against the
Yankees last August.

Oakland led the league in errors last year, in large part because of the
team’s inexperience. Increased maturity and experience playing together
should help alleviate that, but the A’s will still be below-average
defensively. Manned by Eric Chavez and Miguel Tejada, the infield will be
erratically brilliant on the left side, while the right side will have the
limited range of Scott Spezio and Jason Giambi. Ryan Christenson can go
fetch ’em with the best in centerfield, and he’ll have to with Tony
Phillips
and the surprisingly immobile Ben Grieve flanking him. A.J. Hinch
should continue to improve, and should be more than adequate behind the
plate.

Projected runs allowed rank in AL West: fourth


SEATTLE MARINERS (1998: 855 runs allowed, 9th in AL)

Rotation
Jeff Fassero, L
Jamie Moyer, L
Freddy Garcia, R
Butch Henry, L
Ken Cloude, R

Relievers
Jose Mesa, R
Mark Leiter, R
Mac Suzuki, R
Bobby Ayala, R
Jose Paniagua, R
John Halama, L

Alternatives
Billy Swift, R
Brett Hinchliffe, R
Eric Weaver, R

It’s amazing how five months of rain, a few dozen pints of microbrew, and
two weeks of unexpectedly bang-up spring pitching induces unfounded
optimism in Pacific Northwest baseball fans. While the Mariners have the
raw talent to have an above average pitching staff, the main barrier to
success still sits in the dugout next to the lineup card.

Southpaws Jeff Fassero and Jamie Moyer enter their third full seasons with
Seattle, and have demonstrated the ability to thrive in the shadow of Mt.
Piniella. Both are 36 years old, but should provide as strong a 1-2 punch
as anybody in the division. Heading into Camp Lou, the other three spots
were up for grabs. At various times, seven different hurlers had tenuous
holds on the positions. After much hand wringing, Piniella seems to have
settled on Freddy Garcia, Butch Henry and Ken Cloude. Garcia made the team
the old-fashioned way–he earned it. Blessed with the nastiest stuff on the
staff at the tender age of 22, "Fast Freddy" will get to experience the
"nurturing" for which Piniella is famous. Henry played his trump card (a
contract clause making him a free agent if he doesn’t open the season as a
starter) to guarantee his spot in the rotation. Henry should be effective
on those rare occasions when his musculoskeletal system actually allows him
to pitch. Cloude continues on his merry trek down the Bob Wolcott career
path. Since the Mariners don’t need a fifth starter until the second week
of the season, he will open the season in Tacoma. By July he will know
every truckstop on the I-5 corridor.

During the off-season, Woody Woodward scrounged around and unearthed a
couple more gas-soaked rags for the bullpen. Mark Leiter and Jose Mesa will
practice their late-inning hijinks to the delight of souvenir-hungry
patrons in the right field bleachers. Free for the taking, if only because
no other club did so, longtime crowd favorite Bobby Ayala is back for a
return engagement at the Kingdome. If ever a player needed to change area
codes, it’s Ayala. He still has the potential to be effective given the
right situation. Mac Suzuki and lefty John Halama will earn passing grades
in long and middle relief if well-liked pitching coach Stan Williams can
insulate them from the noxious fumes and molten lava that stream down from
the heights of Mt. Piniella. Piniella should not try to use Halama as a
left-handed specialist, since he has no significant platoon split. Jose
Paniagua dug himself a solid foothold in the bullpen with an excellent
performance after being recalled last August. He will open the season as
the setup man, and should be first in line for the closer role if and when
Mesa crumbles.

Defensively, the Mariners were laughable during the Great Collapse of ’98.
Although the only improvements for 1999 will be at second and third base,
they could be substantial, enabling the Mariners to become league-average.
Third baseman Russ Davis appears to have his confidence back and should
avoid a rerun of last year’s horror show. At second, Carlos Guillen replaces
the execrable Joey Cora. Guillen has proven to be a quick study converting
from shortstop, and brings tremendous range and the tools to turn the tough
deuce. The right side of the infield should be where balls go to die, as
silky-smooth David Segui is back at first base after far too much needless
off-season anxiety about moving to left field. Last year the Mariners’
promotional department ran a television commercial in which Ken Griffey Jr.
played every position on the field. Griffey will feel deja vu trying
to cover for lead-foot corner outfielders Jay Buhner and Butch Huskey.
Fully recovered from last year’s ankle injury, Dan Wilson will be solid
when wearing the tools of ignorance.

Projected runs allowed rank in AL West: third


TEXAS RANGERS (1998: 871 runs allowed, 12th in AL)

Rotation
Rick Helling, R
Aaron Sele, R
Mark Clark, R
John Burkett, R
Esteban Loiaza, R

Bullpen
John Wetteland, R
Tim Crabtree, R
Danny Patterson, R
Mike Morgan, R
Eric Gunderson, L
Mike Munoz, L

Alternatives
Jeff Zimmerman, R
Jonathan Johnson, R

The Texas Rangers’ front office spent the bulk of the off-season stalking
the elusive number one starter. Despite a huge monetary cache supplied by
owner Tom Hicks, their efforts to bag the slippery beast came up empty, so
the Rangers open the 1999 season with essentially the same pitching corps
that finished last year. The primary goal for the staff this year is to
keep the team in the AL West race until hunting season reopens in
late-July.

Is it possible to mention either Rick Helling or Aaron Sele without
referring to the other? Both posted unexpectedly gaudy won-lost records
last year, in large part to due to outstanding run support. Although both
should remain above-average starters, they are likely to regress, at least
record-wise. Sele stands the better chance of falling further, as
inconsistency (and concerns about past injuries) continue to plague his
outings. Free agent Mark Clark arrives from the Cubs, where wretched
bullpen support led to seven blown quality starts and a deceiving 9-14
record. With the Rangers’ potent offense and solid bullpen, he very well
could reverse those numbers. John Burkett should improve his command enough
to return to his pre-1998 form. While that’s no great shakes, it’s
acceptable from a fourth starter. Have fun watching Manager Johnny Oates
squirm when Burkett gives up multiple base hits and wriggles off of the
hook. Estaban Loaiza could emerge as this year’s Aaron Sele or degenerate
into Bobby Witt. Flip a coin, because with pitchers, sometimes you just
never know.

The Texas bullpen was quietly effective last year. However, that could
change dramatically in 1999 if John Wetteland’s ankle doesn’t heal
posthaste. While the other Ranger relievers don’t have good track records
in save situations, a more real problem is that none have demonstrated
Wetteland’s ability to pitch well in consecutive games. The Rangers may
need to slip the ultra-competitive Wetteland a bogus game schedule to
prevent him from doing more serious harm to himself. He altered his
delivery in two Grapefruit League outings trying to pitch on his bad ankle
and suffered back spasms. If Wetteland isn’t ready for Opening Day, Tim
Crabtree will inherit the role of stopper. Crabtree certainly has the
necessary repertoire, but may lack the durability. Another option is Jeff
Zimmerman, currently slated to open the season in Oklahoma City. Zimmerman
is being groomed as the future closer, but the future could be now. Danny
Patterson and portsider Eric Gunderson are reliable enough set-up men, but
would be ill suited in the role of closer. It looks like Mike Munoz has
made the club on the basis of six decent innings of work this spring,
further evidence of the fascination with washed-up lefthanders. Grizzled
old Mike Morgan will get plenty of press when he makes the Rangers his
major league record eleventh team. He should also prove valuable as a spot
starter and long reliever, a la Terry Mulholland.

Defensive prowess isn’t what pushed the Rangers into the playoffs two of
the last three years. However, with the addition of two-time Gold Glove
winner Rafael Palmeiro at first base and a full season of slick-fielding
Royce Clayton at short, their defense will be much less of a liability.
Third baseman Todd Zeile has more range than most 33-year-old ex-catchers,
but too often botches the routine play. Second baseman Mark McLemore‘s
trick of playing deeper to try to offset his diminishing range should soon
will have him positioned in shallow right field. Of course, that may not be
such a bad idea since Juan Gonzalez is incapable of making anything other
than the routine play. Rusty Greer rarely returns to the clubhouse without
blood or grass stains on his uniform, but is only slightly above average in
left field. Center fielder Tom Goodwin is fortunate to have blazing speed
to compensate for the poor jump he gets on most balls, but it can’t obscure
his poor throwing arm. Assuming that his spring elbow problems are
transient, Ivan Rodriguez will continue to intimidate every runner in the
league now that Rickey Henderson is with the Mets. As for Rodriguez’
ability to call a game, I’ll leave that for smart guys like Keith Woolner
to figure out.

Projected runs allowed rank in AL West: first